Community Spotlight: Dr. Riekse
Dr. Robert Riekse is a board-certified internist, with subspecialties in palliative and hospice medicine, and geriatric medicine, and is the Medical Director of Beacon Hill at Eastgate, while also serving as the Program Director for the Trinity Health Grand Rapids Geriatric Medicine Fellowship Program.
The “grandfather” of geriatric medicine
Dr. Riekse grew up in the Grand Rapids area, close to his grandparents who lived well into their 90s. Growing up, he saw his grandparents outlive many others and realized it was rare to live so long. As he entered medical school, and then his residency, he knew he wanted to serve the rapidly growing aging population. So, he pursued geriatric medicine at the University of Washington. It was there that he met one of his professional mentors, Dr. William Hazzard.
An internist and endocrinologist first trained at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, Dr. Hazzard developed an early and life-long fascination with the effects of gender and age on health and well-being. Mentored by fellow geriatrics pioneers like Sir Paul B. Beeson, MD—a former editor of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society and chair of the first Institute of Medicine study on aging and medical education—Dr. Hazzard spent a sabbatical year learning geriatrics in the United Kingdom before returning to the UW School of Medicine to develop its academic program in gerontology and geriatric medicine spanning research, education, and practice. Dr. Hazzard went on to launch academic geriatric programs at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Wake Forest School of Medicine, among many other roles spanning his more than 40-year career.
Of Dr. Hazzard, Dr. Riekse says, “I am incredibly fortunate that I had Dr. Hazzard as an instructor and an attending while I was a fellow at U of Washington.”
Other mentors in his life include his parents and grandparents. “My father was a professor at Grand Rapids Community College teaching and writing textbooks on gerontology, and my grandparents – all four of them – lived into their 90s. They inspired me that you can live well into your 90s as fit and healthy individuals if you take care of yourself.”
Faith and Hope
Outside of his medical practice, Dr. Riekse and his family are active members of Ada Congregational Church, where his wife is one of the pastors, and he’s on their preschool board. “Faith is very important to me; it helps me stay grounded.”
Professionally, Dr. Riekse also serves his community by continuing to teach and train geriatricians and precepting for the palliative and hospice care program at St. Mary’s. He also rounds at Trillium Woods one weekend a month seeing patients.
“Hospice and palliative care are essential components in geriatric medicine. It’s important to me to help provide care, establish realistic expectations, and provide hope for families and their loved ones during the end of life.
“Faith is what gives a person hope, that there is more to life than what is on this Earth. It goes hand in hand with geriatric medicine. That hope is so important, it provides a sense of stability as well.
“When I consider what I tell my daughters, and what I tell the fellows that train with me, I emphasize patience. Life will evolve as it’s determined to be. So be patient in life, and especially patient in caring for others. Geriatric individuals take longer, so take the time to listen and really hear what they are saying. And explore your passions. Being well-rounded personally and professionally is important to building a full life.”